Director Alankrita Shrivastava’s controversial new film “Lipstick Under My Burkha”, which had earlier been refused a certification by India’s Central Board of Film Certification, opened the 17th Annual New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) to much anticipation and fanfare. The gala premiere was held on the evening of April 30th at Village East Cinema in Downtown Manhattan.
Produced by Prakash Jha and starring Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur, the film tells overlapping stories of four women as they try to break out of their repressive lives in a conservative society.
The title comes from a Muslim college student who secrets lipstick under burkha, as she aspires to audition for a pop music competition at her school. The other characters include a young, married beautician having an affair; a photographer; an oppressed, entrepreneurial mother and homemaker selling household items door-to-door and a middle-aged widow who conducts a romance by phone.
Although “Lipstick Under My Burkha” was censored by the Central Board back in January, as being among other things “lady-oriented”, director Shrivastava said that their decision was successfully appealed to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal.
“They have found that the decision of the Central board was wrong and have overturned it,” she confirmed.
Shrivastava also anticipates that the release date of film will be announced in the next few weeks, which might mean the film could be in theaters over this summer.
After the screening, NYIFF director Assem Chhabra MCed a Q&A with Shrivastava and actress Aahana Kumra, who appeared in the film.
Shrivastava reiterated that even though there are constitutional guarantees of women’s rights, the status of many women is still very repressed. Kumra commented, regarding how there are so few good roles for female actors, that “You don’t get these types of scripts every day!”
Much-talked about “Lipstick Under My Burkha” did receive somewhat mixed reviews from the premiere’s attendees.
Noted cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey thought the film showcased women’s issues and was “wonderfully directed”. On the other hand, filmmaker Kawa Hatef, showing his short film “Aarsa” later in the Festival, thought that while “Lipstick” raised important issues, it had “missed its mark technically”.
Village East Cinema was an ideal venue for “Lipstick Under My Burkha”s New York debut and will host the NYIFF features. Of vintage Moorish design, with an analog marquee and staggered balcony seating, the theater gives the effect of being in an old-style movie palace.
Among the 250 audience members sharing the experience were such glittering luminaries as writer Salman Rushdie, Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi and actor Rahul Bose.
The red carpet was literally rolled out at the theater for the dignitaries, as well as the film people who were presenting the results of their efforts later in the Festival.
“It’s a lovely festival, we love the people in the Festival, they always have a wonderful program!” commented Meenu Gaur, director of “Jeewan Haathi” (“Elephant in the Room”)
Indo-American Arts Council President & Executive Director Aroon Shivdasani welcomed guests to the opening night screening to what has been described as “the Sundance of Indian film festivals”.
Organized by the IAAC, the NYIFF is considered the oldest, most prestigious film festival of its kind in the United States, screening premieres of films made from, of, and about the countries in the Indian subcontinent in all different genres.